The dream of Corpus Christi’s long-time pastor, Father José Luis Menéndez, the Cultural Center is intended, in Father’s words, “to give back something to the United States for what it has given us, its immigrant population. It accepts us and gives us a chance to build a new life. We in turn give the gift of our culture.” It is also in particular a gift to South Florida and to the people of transitional neighborhoods. “Just because many of our neighbors cannot donate the dollars needed for such a project as this does not mean that they do not deserve to live with art and culture, that their children should not benefit from a community reflecting the culture and history of so many of its people – or that persons from outside this neighborhood should not be welcome to visit us, and to learn about this history and how all of us can appreciate it together as one diverse but united community.”
La Merced, the first building of the Cultural Center and the focal point of an anticipated village square, was begun fifteen years ago under the inspiration of the parish’s Peruvian community. In addition to being a house of worship, it is also home for significant original works of art, both Spanish Colonial art created in the New World and works imported from Europe by the colonial settlors. As construction has continued, and donors of time, talent and treasure have come forward, Father Menéndez has increased the quality and detail of construction, and the size and quality of the collections.
The design of La Merced retains its Peruvian colonial soul, while the artisans and materials reflect the world that has come to South Florida over the centuries. The windows are made of onyx from Pakistan. The floor is marble from Turkey. The interior step facing is from Alicante, Spain. Outside walls include coral rock from the Dominican Republic. The outside steps are made of stone from Brazil. The exterior paint is made in the water-based style typical in Europe and the Spanish colonies at the turn of the century. On the front altar, small columns and side niche areas are made by craftsmen from Cochabamba, Bolivia inspired by local traditional Indian carving. A coffered ceiling, also hand carved in Cochabamba, is in storage waiting for installation funding. Other altars are made by Colombians, by Mexicans in the style of Peru, and by Costa Ricans assisted by Hondurans and Guatemalans, exemplifying the rich artisan resources available in Miami.
Our second building, La Casa, was the original convent for the nuns who staffed the parish grammar school. It was later converted to a retreat center, Casa Chali, named for Puerto Rico’s Blessed Carlos Manuel Cecilio (“Chali”) Rodriguez Santiago who was known for his interest in the arts, science, philosophy, religion and music. Now converted to the headquarters for the Cultural Center, La Casa retains Blessed Chali’s spirit, housing meeting and reception rooms, a library, display areas for the Center’s collections, a studio for art restoration and conservation, and the Center’s offices.